CODY, Wyo. - Marking another sign of spring, a grizzly bear accustomed to human food was captured Tuesday and killed Wednesday morning after rummaging for days through a North Fork cabin.
The 5-year-old grizzly, known to wildlife managers at No. 380, was spotted last week in the parking lot of Sleeping Giant ski area. Over the weekend, it broke into a nearby guest cabin three times, smashing every window and damaging cupboards and other items.
The bear also tried to break into a pickup truck and caused several hundred dollars in damage.
"We consider breaking into a building a pretty serious deal. That's where we usually draw the line," said Mark Bruscino, bear-management officer in the Wyoming Game and Fish Department's Cody office.
The healthy, 315-pound bear was captured Tuesday and brought to the Game and Fish headquarters. After the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was consulted, the bear was tranquilized Wednesday, then injected with a lethal mixture.
Bruscino said it's clear the bear's behavior was rooted in its exposure to human food.
Last May, No. 380 was captured along the North Fork highway where the bear had learned not to be afraid of people and, more important, that people could be a source of food, Bruscino said.
"When I pulled up, there was a carload of people throwing apples at him," he said.
The grizzly was captured and flown 20 miles away to the Washakie Wilderness. In five days, the bear was roadside again on the North Fork while looking to score food from passing visitors.
Bruscino said it's frustrating that people are still feeding bears, despite warnings, signs and potential fines.
"It may seem like you're doing him a favor by giving a bear something to eat," he said. "But you're actually sealing its fate."
Wildlife managers put a radio-collar on No. 380 last year and tracked the bear during the summer and fall. Though he spent much of his time along roads in Yellowstone National Park and along the North Fork, there were also reports of a collared bear at lodges, camps and private cabins.
"I am guessing that most or all of those reports were him," Bruscino said.
It's unclear how long the grizzly had been eating human food, but Bruscino said it was long enough for the bear to understand how to get a "food reward."
"The reason he broke into the cabin was because he was food-conditioned," he said. "It isn't that the bear was being bad .... at that point, he didn't know any difference between breaking a window to get food and busting apart a log."
Last year, a record 13 grizzlies were killed by wildlife managers in Wyoming, usually for damaging property or posing a direct threat to the public. In 2000, 64 conflicts between bears and people were reported on private lands. In 2001, that number jumped to 123.
Bruscino doesn't expect this year to be much different, primarily because the grizzly population is growing and becoming more widely distributed and more people are moving into bear country.
Three years of drought also play a role because traditional food supplies dry up and the bears start looking elsewhere.
The biggest problem, though, is that people are feeding the bears or allowing them access to food, Bruscino said.
The latest troubles with No. 380 come on the heels of political discussion in western Wyoming about food-storage rules and whether bears, wolves and other "unacceptable species" will be allowed in certain counties.
Park County commissioners on Tuesday said they were frustrated with how the grizzlies are being managed and urged the federal government to remove them from the Endangered Species List.
Politics aside, this week's incident also serves as a reminder that bears have started emerging from hibernation
"This is the month when the bulk of bears are coming out," Bruscino said, adding that a few emerged in late March and others will arrive in May.